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Car loan denial after a purchase: What to know

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You find the perfect car, you negotiate a price, sign the papers and drive off with your new car. All is well until the dealer calls you and says the auto loan you used has been denied and they want their car back.

While it is rare, a car loan can be denied after you thought it was already approved. Here’s a look at why that happens and what you can do.

Why you can be denied a car loan after the purchase is complete

When you get a car loan, a dealership will sometimes allow you to take delivery of the car even though your loan has not been fully approved.

If the loan is then denied, you’ll have to return the car.

Dealerships

While car loan modification scams do exist, it is also possible that the denial is legitimate. Start by reading all the papers you signed to see if anything in them says the deal has any contingencies — “contingent upon financing approval,” for example.

Sometimes dealerships use a form called a rescission agreement to outline a broader array of contingencies. While there are many kinds of contingencies, dealer financing contingencies are one of the most common. It makes sense when you think about it — you can’t drive away with a new car if your loan is not approved.

Banks, credit unions and online lenders

Banks, credit unions and online lenders may not approve your car loan if they can’t verify the information you provided on your application, even if you were preapproved beforehand.

Most lenders will give conditional approval after only a cursory examination of your financial details. And most dealers will allow you to take possession of the car with only this initial approval, as long as you sign paperwork allowing them to retake possession if you don’t get final loan approval.

Over the next few days, the lender will look through the information on your application in more detail. If they can’t verify the information, they may deny your loan.

Here are some reasons why this could happen:

  • There are typos, errors or omissions in the loan application.
  • Your financial situation changes.
  • You relocate, and the address the lender has on file changes.
  • You change jobs or become unemployed while your loan application processes.

While this type of situation can be frustrating, it traces its roots to the timing around purchasing a car. Lenders and dealers want the car buying process to be as quick as possible. Consumers are less likely to buy a car or get a loan from someone who won’t give a loan approval for a few days.

What to do if you’re denied an auto loan after you buy the car

You’ll rarely be denied an auto loan after initial approval unless your information has changed or there was a mistake. Reach out to the lender to learn why your loan application was denied. Take these steps if the car is already in your possession:

  • Provide updated information. Update the lender with your new job if you changed jobs and were denied because the lender couldn’t verify your employment.
  • Check if the dealer can rework your loan. They may be able to work with another lender by giving it your updated information.
  • Review the contract. You may find that the lender does not have the legal right to cancel the loan agreement. If so, you may want to consult with an attorney to learn more about what rights may be available to you.
  • Purchase the car another way. Use savings, credit cards or a personal loan to pay the dealer in full if possible.
  • Return the car. If you can’t get a new loan and you signed a contract with contingencies, you must return the car.

How to better your auto loan approval chances

It’s wise to avoid major financial changes before you fully close on your auto loan. Here are a few ways to improve your chances of being approved for an auto loan:

  • Don’t make any large purchases. Changing your credit utilization ratio can affect your credit score, which may affect your car loan.
  • Stay at your job. Lenders want to know you have reliable income and the ability to repay your loan.
  • Don’t open new credit cards. New entries to your credit report can make lenders wonder if there is something else going on.
  • Look at your credit report. Take a look at your credit report and ensure there are no errors or inaccuracies hurting your credit score.
  • Review your loan application before submitting. You want to ensure all components of the loan application are accurately completed to avoid a rejection.

The bottom line

While it doesn’t happen very often, it is possible to be denied a car loan even after you take possession of the car.

To minimize the odds, try not to make any major changes to your finances or credit until your loan is finalized, including not changing jobs, if possible. If you are denied, you’ll need to either work with the seller to find a new lender, pay for the car in full or return the car and go back to auto shopping.

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Written by
Allison Martin
Allison Martin's work began over 10 years ago as a digital content strategist, and she’s since been published in several leading financial outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money, MoneyTalksNews, Investopedia, Experian and Credit.com.
Edited by
Auto loans editor